Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bad Jewish Arguments for Vegetarianism

This ain't the Illuminati or lizard people disguised as world leaders, y'know. Yes, there are people who beleive in those things, but avoiding animal foods doesn't have to be so fringe. If you've been reading for a while, you know that I'll freely oppose weak arguments for vegetarianism and veganism. In the end, it just doesn't help.

So when I came across a series of videos on Jewish vegetarianism, the first thing I did was ask the opinion of Stephen, The Nervous Vegan's Official Expert on All Things Kosher. He's always full of insight when it comes to intersections between vegetarian and kosher diets. For my Jewish vegetarian friends out there, and anybody else who's interested, I'll post the videos and his criticisms.

The first thing he had to say pretty much set the tone for the entire exchange.
I haven't seen them yet, but I would just let you know in advance that Prof. Richard Schwartz is considered something of a kook. No pun intended, seriously. :) He has taken some very extreme positions and is considered a one-note diva. He is very outside the mainstream.
Okay then, let's watch along with Stephen. Here's part 1:

Hey, so I listened to the first recording and it is very Prof. Schwartz. That being said, it contains several distortions:

1) Yes, the longest living people in the Torah were in the earliest generations extending from Adam to Noach (Noah), but nowhere in the literature is this attributed to vegetarianism, or is it even a consideration. Rather, the shortening of life is considered related to man's corruption. Man cannot live too long because it created laziness and corruption. This is evidenced in the Tower of Babel story where the people of the world decide they are like Gd and want to build a tower to heaven to take their lofty place. Also it is further evidenced by the flood which ends the first era of history after which Gd puts a limit on life. In fact it is said that the ideal years of man is 120. But only one man reached that age: Moses. Even 'til today, it is common to wish someone on their birthday "Ad meah v'esrim" ('til 120). The limitation has nothing to do with vegetarianism.

2) There is no evidence that humans were not permitted to eat meat 'til the flood. The only prohibition against eating meat was in the Garden of Eden, and the speaker has pointed out those passages, but after Adam and Chava (Eve) are removed they are told they will have dominion over all living creatures. This can be interpreted as being only the ruler over animals, but more commonly as they were able to use animals for food as well...
However, it is clear that use of animals, and to be blunt, the bloodletting of animals, was clearly not frowned upon. In the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, a farmer gave sacrifice to Gd from his fields and Abel, a shepherd gave a sacrifice to Gd of his flock. Gd was pleased with Abel's offering, he called it a sweet fragrance, but not with Cain's which was referred to as stingy.

Cain became jealous and killed Abel. Cain was subsequently punished and obligated to wander the earth for the rest of his life without a place to settle. Clearly Gd preferred the animal offering to the vegetarian offering.

3) It is simply a distortion to say that Gd considered the generation of the flood evil because they ate meat against Gd's will. There is simply no evidence of that. What was an abomination was that men "tore the living flesh off of animals while they were still alive, causing animals tremendous suffering." The laws of kashrut require the removal of blood because it is the source of life, and that the animal be slaughtered in a humane fashion, by the instantaneous severing of the carotid artery with a smooth blade. However, it is considered an obligation for all of humanity that men cannot tear the living limbs off of animals, one of the obligations in the Torah that belong to all people and not just Jews. This is one of the 7 Noahide laws (Laws for all mankind).

4) Rav Kook was not a vegetarian, though he is cited frequently by vegetarians and Prof. Schwartz is notorious for using him in justify his theses. Rav Kook wrote about vegetarianism as the "ideal diet of Kashrut" and said that we shall return to it in the messianic age. But he maintained that in a time of imperfection vegetarian diet was improper and smacked of "pretension." Anyway, you might want to look at this.
See there! I have to look no further for a full discussion. Good work, sir!

Rav Kook's take on vegetarianism: Essentially while it is permissible it is not mandated nor is it even preferred behavior in modern times. Some of Rav Kook's letters to his son regarding the mitzvah of schechita (Kosher butchering).

To be clear... Prof Schwartz has taken Rav Kook's pronouncement that One may be a vegetarian if he chooses, and his observation that in the messianic age the diet will be vegetarian, to suggest that it is a preferred Jewish diet in present times, when Rav Kook says almost exactly the opposite. The most interesting aspect, I think, is Rav Kook's observation that many who refuse to eat meat are otherwise cruel to their fellow man.
There we are! These ideas don't really survive scrutiny, effective though they may be in some people's personal rationales. If you find yourself entering a discussion, show your stuff by not employing these arguments, or even by recognizing their faultiness. Remember, humbleness will get you further. I've actually found that silence impresses people more than debate.

Thank you once again, Stephen! I'll have to send you a New York Post t-shirt or something.


  1. Once again I am humbled, and wow, I even get a label....Always glad to help.

  2. Thank you once again for going out of your way and giving so much. I really appreciate the increase of quality for the site! :-)